Keen to dissolve the myth that yoga is just for bendy/young/fit/energetic people, Ilona will be offering a range of classes and workshops to cater for all levels of ability. The classes will include gentle hatha, meditation and breath awareness techniques, dynamic vinyasa and ashtanga based practice.
Yoga classes at Panthera aim to give you the tools to take your practice off the mat and into your everyday life; learning to recognise when we need to take some time for ourselves to recharge. This could be stretches, meditation or breathing if you’re feeling stressed at work, a personal yoga practice at home incorporating teachings from Panthera classes or just taking 10 minutes to be still, turning your focus inwards and re-connecting with yourself.
Yoga Myths - What is Yoga?
What is Yoga?
The word yoga, from the Sanskrit root word yuj, means to yoke or bind, and is often interpreted as ‘union’ or the bringing together of body and mind.
The Indian sage Patanjali is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutras around 2,000 years ago. The Sutras are a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today.
The physical practice (asana) of yoga is just one aspect of yogic philosophy and forms one of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as created by Patanjali.
What are the benefits of a regular yoga practice?
Yoga offers so many benefits to the body, mind and senses and western science is slowly starting to validate what Indian yogic tradition has known for thousands of years.
Regular yoga practice is a form of functional fitness; it reduces the risk of injury allows us to perform better by mimicking the movements the body goes through every day, i.e. walking, sitting, twisting, bending and lifting. Of equal importance is the impact yoga has on mental wellbeing, encouraging us to re-connect and let go using the power of the breath.
Yoga reduces feelings of stress and anxiety:
Yoga encourages us to let go and relax focusing on being in the moment, through the physical postures and using breathing techniques called pranayama. Modern life often means that our bodies reside in a perpetual state of stress which is implicated in so many health issues including alzheimers, MS, fibromyalgia, migraine, eczema, high blood pressure, gastric ulcers and heart disease.
In a nutshell, yoga allows us to relax. To calm the body and mind, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, boosting the efficacy of all the vital body systems, improving sleep quality and allowing the body and mind to simply switch off from the constant barrage of daily life – what Herbert Benson M.D. calls the ‘relaxation response’ (Yoga Journal). Lowering stress and anxiety levels will help you live a happier, healthier and longer life.
Yoga improves flexibility:
As we’ve seen above. Most people won’t be able to touch their toes the first time they come to a class, but over time the body loosens and what seemed impossible at the start becomes possible. You may also find that aches and pains start to dissipate – tight muscles can impact posture, create poor alignment and induce back and neck pain, creating space allows the body to function as it should.
Improves muscle strength and tone:
Strong muscles protect us. They protect our bones from issues including arthritis and back/neck pain. They protect us if we fall and reduce the impact on the body, they also help us feel more confident as we age. Yoga improves muscle tone by working with our existing muscle mass and improving its integrity, resistance and strength. Yoga tones the muscles across the whole body, keeping them in balance with each other – a key difference to gym based weight training which isolates individual muscles and can result in imbalances and posture issues.
Improves bone health:
It is well known and proven that weight bearing exercises improve bone health and density, reducing the chance of osteoporosis. Studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol has a detrimental effect on bone health by reducing calcium density; yoga’s ability to reduce the amount of cortisol we have in our systems paired with using weight bearing postures such as Downward Facing Dog offer a powerful benefit in maintaining skeletal health.
Improves physical and mental balance:
A regular yoga practice will include postures that focus on improving balance, vital as we go through life and especially important as we age. Yoga helps us tune in to where our bodies are in space (proprioception) and how to distribute our weight more effectively. Essentially, better balance can mean fewer falls, a feeling of being more grounded, and the ability to deal with stress in a more ‘balanced’ and less reactive way.
I’m not flexible, I can’t do yoga…
Sadly yoga has an image problem. Google the word ‘yoga’ and you’ll find thousands of images of mostly fit young women bending themselves into pretzel-like shapes.
This is not what yoga is about.
Yoga is a wonderful way to become more flexible.
Anyone, and I really mean anyone, can do yoga. The whole point is to take the body and mind from where you started and improve your flexibility, strength, stamina and balance.
Yoga is not a competition and every body (literally) is different. We need to celebrate this and enjoy the benefits yoga offers without comparing ourselves to impossible (and un-yogic) paradigms.
What does Hatha mean?
The literal translation of Hatha from Sanskrit is from the two root words Ha meaning sun and Tha meaning moon. It refers to the balance of masculine and feminine characteristics that are found in everyone (similar to the Chinese yin and yang).
When used to describe a school of yoga, Hatha generally refers to the set of exercises and postures known collectively as the physical practice of yoga, or yoga asanas. Hatha is about balance – the balance of strength and flexibility, the balance of body and mind and the balance of ego and acceptance of limitation.
Hatha is the original form of yoga, from which many other schools including Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Power, Yin, Yang originate.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is not a religion – it is an Indian philosophy that is over 5,000 years old.
The father of classical yoga is said to be sage Patanjali, who wrote the Yoga Sutras. These scriptures provide a framework for spiritual growth and learning to have control over the physical and mental body.
The beauty of yoga is that it is a living philosophy – you would never be expected to give up your own religious beliefs to practice yoga, you take on as much or as little as feels right to you.
What is the difference between yoga and pilates?
Yoga and Pilates are often lumped into the same ‘physical wellness’ category but there is confusion because there is quite a lot of crossover between the two disciplines. Yoga originated in India around 5,000 years ago and has been taught in one way or another since ancient times. It is a holistic lifestyle philosophy that has a spiritual side.
Pilates was created by enterprising German émigré Joseph Pilates around 100 years ago. It was a new approach to looking after the body that gradually evolved through his experiences of looking after war-wounded soldiers in World War 1, creating special exercises to aid recovery. He took inspiration from classical Roman and Greek exercises and the more modern gymnastics and body building of the 20th century.
Both offer similar benefits including; a better connection to the body, stress and anxiety relief, development of flexibility, strength, balance, endurance and control. They are also generally low intensity and low impact forms of exercise and are accessible to everyone unlike many other disciplines. Pilates generally focuses on smaller controlled movements targeting specific areas of the body, using both the bodyweight and exercise machines (called apparatus by Joseph Pilates); yoga uses varied sequences with whole body movement and has many different incarnations – hatha, iyengar, ashtanga and vinyasa to name a few.
Yoga is also a philosophy, a science with strong links to Ayurvedic medicine and offers guidelines to ethical living (yamas and niyamas). It’s also used by some as a way of life, both on and off the mat.
Pilates and yoga complement each other well and many practice both; they encourage a better awareness of the mind-body connection from slightly different angles and in our chronically stressed and overworked world that can only be a good thing.
Why should I do yoga – how is it different from going to the gym?
Some people love going to the gym…and some people see it as a necessary evil to keep fit and healthy. Going to the gym offers physical body training, whereas yoga is a complete mind-body package. Yoga will help you improve your muscle tone and cardiovascular health but it also really helps us just ‘be’ in the moment. It is amazing how rarely that happens in life; how often when you’re in the gym do you find yourself distracted by random thoughts – that other person over there, your music choices, how many reps you have left…? Yoga teaches us to re-connect with the mind and find that all-important inner stillness.
Gym workouts focus on boosting cardio endurance and toning muscles, yoga works the whole body and all our vital internal systems. The twisting, stretching, breathing and folding movements of yoga detoxify the whole body, improving our digestion, increasing immune function by boosting lymphatic drainage, improving blood circulation and much more.
The other very important difference between yoga and going to the gym is that yoga is not a competition. Yoga is about finding acceptance for what our bodies can and cannot do and finding joy in that acceptance. It helps you understand that your body is amazing and you have no need to compare yourself to others. Gym culture is generally the complete opposite. Mirrors encourage comparison to the person next to you/on the other side of the room and some classes can leave you feeling like a failure if you can’t keep up.
How often should I practice yoga?
Yoga is amazing – even one hour a week will provide mental and physical benefits. If you can only manage 20 minutes at a time don’t worry, as time goes by you’ll most likely discover the desire to increase your practice as you experience positive changes in body and mind. Yoga is a cumulative practice – the more you put in, the more you’ll receive in return.
Is yoga is just for women?
As is quite clear from advertising and class statistics, modern westernised yoga is generally more popular with women – it is not uncommon to see just a couple of men in a public class. However, classical yoga throughout history was designed for and almost exclusively practiced by men in ancient India. Yoga is definitely not just for women or just for men, it is equally beneficial to everyone – yogic philosophy dictates that any class should be available to anyone who wishes to attend regardless of gender.